Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What did the rains do for the drought? Not much!

No, this isn’t a cobblestone road but Squire Creek 
east of Oso dried out by the drought.
Weekend rains filled the creek but it is expected to run dry again.
by Dan Partridge, communications manager, Water Resources

The storms this week delivered more rain to Washington than the previous four months combined, bumping up declining stream flows across the state.

The rains have made a difference in the area of the state considered to be in extreme drought, now at 68 percent compared to 85 percent last week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The rains also improved the morale of state employees working to provide drought relief in what is shaping up to be the worst drought in modern state history. But they only temporarily ease the hardships this drought is bringing to communities, farmers and fish.

Rains bump stream flows across the state

Before Aug. 30th, 75 percent of the reporting stations maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey across our state showed below normal stream flows. With the rains, that improved to 30 percent. That will alleviate fish passage problems for salmon migration upstream, but it’s not a bump expected to last as hot, dry weather is forecast in September.

The storms delivered 6.82 inches of precipitation to Olympic National Park, but the long-burning Paradise Fire – in the rainforest -- is still going! The fire has consumed 2,796 acres so far.

Fires still burning in Eastern Washington

A total of 3.28 inches of rain was recorded at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport over six days, while rainfall was spotty in Eastern Washington ranging from less than a quarter of an inch in some areas up to an inch on other areas. It was not enough to douse the fires which have burned an area the size of the state of Rhode Island.

The city of Seattle received about 2 inches of rain over the weekend, but that’s far less than what is needed to pull back from voluntary water use restrictions announced for Seattle, Everett and Tacoma in August.

Snow forecast for the mountains

Some good news from this week’s wet, cooler weather is a National Weather Service advisory for mountain snow before Labor Day above 5,600 feet in the Cascades and Olympics.

Any snow in the mountains would be a welcome sight. But our statewide drought started with a lack of adequate snowpack over the winter, and by the first of June our mountain snowpack had disappeared. We will need “mountains” of snow (pardon the expression) to avoid another snowpack drought in 2016.

Long-range forecast

The 30-day forecast for September calls for an equal chance of normal or below normal precipitation and an equal chance of normal or above normal temperatures.

An El Nino weather pattern, predicted this week by the World Meterological Organization to be one of the strongest in more than a half century, will reduce the chances of adequate accumulations of snow this winter.

So it’s great to see the rain, but Ecology and our partner agencies in drought relief won’t be pulling back this fall on our work to relieve hardships from water shortages occurring in Washington Drought 2015. We invite you to help us document the drought by providing photos to the Drought Photo Tour of depleted stream flows, dying crops and fish stranded by low flows.

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